Since early 2004, Montreal based Arcade Fire have been overachieving when it comes to making thoughtful, poignant indie rock. In the more than decade since their debut, the band has released four quite different, but excellent albums. Themes of abandonment, loneliness, and recklessness seep through them all. Truth be told, this list was difficult to make, if only because the band has so many worthy songs, but in the end I think it’s a full and complete list. In a relatively short amount of time they’ve established themselves as the premiere band in the realm of indie rock, and today we discuss their Top Ten Songs. Enjoy!
10. Empty Room. the Suburbs
The first thing that comes to your attention on this track is sheer urgency. One could argue the band is most urgent on this record, and when you look at songs like this, it’s hard to disagree. The strings catapult themselves into central vision, but soon Regine’s voice and the wails of make shift sirens swarm over the listener like police bombarding teens on a late night while just having some carefree fun. It’s also surprisingly easy to dance to, and bask in the glory of your youth, knowing full well the best place to be is your room, because as Regine puts it,” When I’m by myself I can be myself.”
9. Normal Person, Reflektor
The band's fourth album, honestly, took me some time to get into. It lacked the emotion that i recognized quickly on the other records, but over time, it made sense not only logically but in a musical way. The band was simply adding layers unseen by the public up until that point. “Normal Person” starts with an ease and reverb that both work well, but as the track sways behind Win’s hushed, slightly whispered voice, all the pieces come together. It has an attitude that’s easy to spot, but it’s not a dick head attitude. It’s the confidence you get from growing from your art, and I suppose being praised by many many people.
8. Modern Man, the Suburbs
One of the best things “The Suburbs” does lies in it’s ability to relate. It’s a record so full of high school nostalgia and resentment that it easily fits into the narrative of what the listener likely experienced. I love this record, because I lived this record. “Modern Man,” which comes in at number eight on the Top Ten Arcade Fire songs, builds on those ideas. We all work and try to do our best, but sometimes, actually most times, it’s not good enough. We’re all taught early on we can be whatever we want, but frankly it’s a bullshit notion passed down from bitter adults who want to see their future as having it better than they did. Sometimes that happens, but sometimes we grow up to be a “Modern Man,” who’s just trying to survive in this jungle called life.
7. Neighborhood #1(Tunnels) Funeral
For many, the first taste of what the group was capable of was this track, which opens with a crisp piano melody, swiftly followed by chimes and and church like elements. “Neighborhood #1(Tunnels)” is a song you don’t quickly forget. Part of that is the musicianship sure, but Win’s voice was up to then something unlike anything I had ever heard. It’s honest in a way that nearly every artist in indie rock( Not named Jeff Mangum) had been unable to crack. The mix I think purposely keeps the instruments in the background until the precise moment it needs to be displayed fully, but it works entirely off the strength of Butler’s voice. It’s the opening of their first record, and even after all the times I’ve listened to it, it still brings me a sense of joy to be back in the world of “Funeral.”
6. Month of May, the Suburbs
Easily the most intense, punch in the face song on the list of the Top Ten Arcade Fire Songs, “Month of May,” finds us at number six. It’s always reminded me of an angry version of an Arcade Fire song if surf punks had recorded it. It’s full of folded arms being disobedient, but that only lasts until it’s time to put your fists in the air and chant the “First the built the roads, then they built the town.” That moment is important, but it’s made even more great by the drum beat that precedes its. From the first listen until now, it’s remained a stark example of how different this band can be when the moment calls for it, and that they can in fact write a very intense, gut wrenching track.
5. Rebellion(Lies), Funeral
Everyone by this point should have seen the epic performance of this song at AF’s first Coachella appearance. One could even argue it’s the performance that poised them for the major success that was yet to come. It’s still really incredible. Anyway, the track is one of the last on the all around perfect “Funeral,” and over the course of five minutes and eleven seconds the band proves what’s now clearly obvious, and has been for years. That is simply, that they rock in many ways. The album itself reeks of death and mourning, and on “Rebellion(Lies)” the band drill that concept of life and recklessness into existence. The backing vocals are well placed, as is the powerful yet subtle drumming by Jeremy Gara. The song builds and builds until the climax, and everyone is urged to joyously sing and dance to the “Rebellion” happening all around us.
4. Ready to Start, the Suburbs
Another song in the top five that is largely remembered as part of a landmark, historic performance at Coachella. The third time the band played, finally landing the headlining spot, the encore starts with this track. By this point the balls that had fallen from the stage are turning lights in sync with the music, and of course the crowd loses their mind. The track itself though has this mysterious hue over it, and the energy surrounding the track is dark and foreboding in the best way the band knows how to deliver. Clearly a great song off another nearly perfect album, “Ready to Start” not only stands as a dark reminder of what “The Suburbs” may have in store for us, but it also comes in at number four on the Top Ten Arcade Fire songs.
3. My Body is a Cage, Neon Bible
Win's voice comes out, and the sadness is not only palpable, but it's as if his life depends on getting these emotions out. The whole theme of the album really comes into extremely clear view here too. The choral atmosphere, along with the chamber music and organ makes the song thick. The explosion following this is also a big jolt. This song is ripe for use, and to my knowledge, it's been used perfectly twice in regards to other mediums. First, the trailer for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” but more importantly, there's a video of this song being used to compliment the film “Once Upon a Time in the West.” I've still never seen the film, but this combination of music and film is one of the coolest things I've ever seen in my life. It perfectly draws the tension out, and the symbolism in the song, not to mention the dark tone of the film. The key to the power of the song though, is Butler's unique and simply amazing voice, and in the fleeting moments of “Neon Bible,” it's those things that really make the journey of the album worthwhile.
2. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
The choice between number one and two was difficult, but in the end it had to be done. “Sprawl II(Mountains Beyond Mountains)” not only reaches nearly to the top of the pile, but it helps to tie all the themes running rampant on “The Suburbs” into one spectacular and beautiful bow. Regine’s voice again shines through, but through it all the songs success lies not just with her gorgeous rendition of a monotonous life, but in fact with all the members of the band who excel at writing music that people can relate to. That idea of “We can never get away from the Sprawl” is a real, complicated feeling that many people have with their hometowns, whether or not the grow up in “The Suburbs,” but it’s in that moment you realize the world is one big Sprawl, and over Mountain lies the potential to exist a Sprawl that’s perfectly weird in the exact way we are, and we can make the best of what the world has to offer.
Wake Up, Funeral
Without a doubt, there wasn’t any other song that could have been number one. At the top of the list, “Wake Up,” from the seminal “Funeral,” presents us with chants galore which are able to allow us to free ourselves from complicated lives, if only just for a moment. Everything soars here, quite simply. The guitar riff at the outset sets the pace, then the drums add a little bit of force to it, but then the real magic happens when the iconic chant occurs nearing the thirty second mark. The songs on the album speak to the truths of life, and that all things must come to an end, but I think “Wake Up” stands up as a reminder that sometimes life is dismal, but it’s the unfortunate events that truly make us a better people. It’s also a sobering look at the world we live in, and how important it is to stay positive as “our hearts get torn up.”
Thanks for reading!